The beauty, variety and uniqueness of nature

Particular beauty

This is undoubtedly the theme Hopkins addressed most, and for which he is probably best known. It is a Romantic theme, but Hopkins' addition to the Romantic celebration of natural beauty is the uniqueness of each natural occurrence of beauty, whether in a landscape or in a person. There is thus an infinite variety of expressions of that beauty. Duns Scotus saw God as being beautiful, and believed, therefore, that all his Creation reflected that beauty in some way, each aspect being unique or particular. Many of Hopkins' poems celebrate specific natural beauty, for example, Pied Beauty or The Starlight Night.

Life in the light of beauty

In The Windhover there is a problem, in that the bird's beauty in flight reminds the poet of his rather dull, restricted life, and so gives rise to frustration as well as delight. It is a very mixed response. In Henry Purcell, Hopkins is entranced by the beauty of Purcell's unique music, but is concerned about the man's salvation, as he was not a Catholic. Hopkins cannot easily separate the art from the artist.

The fragility of beauty

Another concern (which ties up with the theme of the ugliness of modern life) is seen in Binsey Poplars. This depicts how an individual inscape, once destroyed, cannot be re-created, and yet modern life seems to have very little sense of this. God's Grandeur also sees beauty as being easily obliterated (though it perceives God's renewing force through the Holy Spirit).

On the other hand, Nature itself seems to remind us of the shortness of its beauty. In Spring and Fall, the shedding of leaves reminds the child that all beautiful things come to an end: this is the transience of life. This tension between actual transience and the desire for permanence is captured in a verse in the Old Testament which Hopkins would have known:

‘He (God) has made every thing beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men' (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

This is the theological foundation of Hopkins' problem and the search for a solution.

Natural and divine beauty

As Kingfishers Catch Fire forms an important thematic link between natural beauty and God's. This is probably the central poem for the study of this theme, as Hopkins lists the unique inscape of each created thing, including humans. Each human is unique in his or her giftings, too. Yet ideally, as humans act in grace (the concept mentioned in looking at the theme of Beauty and its purpose), they will individually demonstrate Christ's universal beauty.

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